Lobbyists, CEOs, defense contractors, high-profile lawyers, trade group bosses, and other bigwigs who seek to influence the federal government pay Trump's companies a combined millions of dollars to play at his golf clubs—giving them unprecedented access to a president who's spent nearly 60 days of his tenure at the courses they visit, USA Today reports.
While the membership lists for Trump's courses are kept secret, USA Today dug through a United States Golf Association (USGA) handicap database and a horde of social media posts to figure out who belonged to the president's namesake courses. From the paper's report:
Members of the clubs Trump has visited most often as president—in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia—include at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on one of the 58 days the president was there, according to scores they posted online... Among Trump club members are top executives of defense contractors, a lobbyist for the South Korean government, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia fight claims over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the leader of a pesticide trade group that sought successfully to persuade the Trump administration not to ban an insecticide government scientists linked to health risks.
Each membership costs upwards of $100,000, along with thousands in annual dues. That money goes to Trump's companies, where it's held in a purportedly "blind" trust run by the president's two adult sons—though the president actually has unchecked access to it. Folks who make a living trying to influence the federal government are paying Trump's companies and, in exchange, getting a potential chance to rub shoulders with the president or aides who accompany him on trips.
According to USA Today, members described Trump as "surprisingly approachable," open to advice "on everything from the state of the tee boxes to the course of his administration." And their interactions with the president aren't limited to time on the green.
On Trump's 100th day in office, he signed two executive orders at a factory owned by the Ames Company in Pennsylvania. The company's president, who stood behind Trump as he signed the orders, is a member of Trump's Bedminster, New Jersey, club. In February, a lobbyist for US and Canadian airports mentioned the fact that he belonged to a Trump club during a meeting with the president—which seemed to please him. "Very good, very good," Trump replied, according to USA Today.
Nothing about this arrangement is illegal, so long as members who have business with the government don't pay extra to curry favor with Trump. But experts say it's still ethically fraught. Walter Shaub, who directed the Office of Government Ethics before resigning in July, told USA Today "face time is everything when it comes to Washington," and that even if Trump isn't discussing the government with his high-profile guests, interacting with them at all raises ethical concerns.
"I think we're all in new territory," Shaub said. "We never thought we'd see anyone push the outer limits in this way."
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